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What's Up Magazine

Collegiate Coursework

Jan 17, 2012 07:01PM ● By Anonymous
When you boil it down, the basics of going to college are timeless: Four years of coursework, maybe an internship or two, leading up to graduation. But if you could pluck a student off the quad from a different era and drop them onto a 21st century campus, that might be the only element they find familiar.

The modern era of campus life took root about 1995, when common use of the World Wide Web started to chart vertically with exponential worldwide growth. But even though today’s students rely on the Internet and their laptops as educational tools, the growth of computers and technology isn’t the only variable in a discussion of how Maryland colleges are evolving. Physical campus growth, characterized by a decade-long building boom for many state schools, is also a major factor.

The University of Maryland, Eastern Shore flicked the on-switch to a 7,800 panel solar energy “farm” in mid-2011, making the campus one of the first in the state to use such technology. The 17-acre solar farm is expected to generate 3.3 million kilowatt hours of energy in its first year, equivalent to the total amount of energy consumed by 315 average American households.

Nowhere has that been more apparent than at the University of Maryland, College Park. Since 1995, the state’s flagship campus has built a massive recreation center, a performing arts center, a basketball arena, hundreds of dorm rooms, and state-of-the-art buildings for the university’s engineering, journalism, biology, and business schools, among other facilities.

Of course, College Park is a 1,250-acre campus educating 37,000 graduate and undergraduate students. Smaller schools don’t necessarily have the luxury of such deep pockets or a campus footprint.

Frostburg State University in Allegany County saw a growth spurt in the 1960s and ’70s when the campus neared its current 265-acre size, says spokeswoman Liz Medcalf. While Frostburg’s campus growth has slowed in the modern era, its latest projects have included an environmental science lab and apartment-style housing for students. That new dorm, called Edgewood Commons, increased capacity for on-campus housing by 25 percent.

The dorm was a much-needed project: like other small college towns, student housing is a challenge for the city of Frostburg, population approximately 9,000. About 4,000 students live on campus or in rental properties within the city limits. Census data shows that 55 percent of homes in Frostburg are occupied by renters.

Ten years ago, the school signed a mutual aid agreement with the city that allowed Frostburg City Police and University Police each to request assistance from its neighboring agency. An association of year-round residents, students, landlords, and rental agents was formed in 2005 as a way to improve communication and strengthen neighborhoods. And, since the arrival of school president Jonathan Gibralter in 2006, an even more concerted effort has been underway to improve communication between residents and the college, including measures to reduce the problems associated with underage drinking in off-campus locations.

On the opposite side of the state, in the Somerset County town of Princess Anne, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore has seen its own enrollment gains. When outgoing president Thelma Thompson took the reins in 2002, the school's enrollment was 3,644. Last fall, enrollment topped 4,500—a 25 percent increase—at a time when many historically black colleges and universities like UMES have struggled to maintain enrollment, according to spokesman Bill Robinson.

It’s a remarkable turnaround for a campus that came close to shutting down 30 years ago. In the late 1970s, a task force appointed by state leaders considered merging UMES with nearby Salisbury State University, or perhaps closing the Princess Anne campus altogether, according to Robinson.

The panel concluded that UMES should remain a freestanding institution, and that “the state of Maryland should commit to spending an appropriate amount of resources to bolster it as Maryland’s lone land-grant school,” Robinson explains.

Under Thompson’s leadership, UMES increased its number of accredited academic programs from four to 26, including marine science, engineering, physical therapy, as well as a new pharmacy program that, next year, will have 180 graduate students. As a result, UMES enrollment has quadrupled since its lean years.

Also in the last decade, the school has raised more than $150 million in grants and research funding, and has been ranked in the top tier of America’s historically black institutions by U.S. News & World Report. Last year, a proposed $100 million science and engineering building was green-lit for state funding. In March 2011, the school officially opened a 17-acre solar farm, one of the largest of its kind in the U.S.

One campus in central Maryland, founded as a commuter school to serve baby boomers and people using the G.I Bill, has grown into a major public research university. For two years running, U.S. News & World Report has called it the No. 1 up-and-coming university in the country: The University of Maryland Baltimore County.

UMBC opened in 1966, though it had been in the planning stages since the 1950s to serve the future needs of the post-war generation, according to UMBC history professor Joseph N. Tatarewicz. Built on more than 435 acres of a former state mental hospital, the campus didn’t have a dormitory until 1970.

Today, UMBC is making strides as a leader in cybersecurity through the strength of its academic programs and a culture of innovation at its bwtech@UMBC Research and Technology Park, says spokeswoman Dinah Winnick. In particular, UMBC is taking advantage of being just 10 miles away from the Army’s Fort George G. Meade, considered one of the nation’s preeminent center for information and intelligence.

The 71-acre bwtech campus is home to about 85 companies, including more than 20 working in cybersecurity. Winnick says these companies benefit from bwtech’s proximity to key federal cybersecurity assets at Fort Meade such as the National Security Agency, U.S. Cyber Command and, coming later this year, the Defense Information Systems Agency,” she says.

The tech park’s new Cyber Incubator includes something they call the Cync Program, formed through a partnership with Northrop Grumman, to nurture companies developing technology that will secure and protect computer hardware, software and networks vital to national defense, Winnick says.

Community Colleges

The Center for Applied Learning and Technology at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold opened in 2004, catering to the growing demand for entry-level professionals of various technology industries.

Enrollment at Maryland’s community colleges has gone up every semester for the last 15 years, with the rate of growth in the last three years considerably higher, according to Jody Kallis, a legislative liaison with the Maryland Association of Community Colleges.

From 2008 to 2010, statewide community college attendance increased by about 20,000. That’s roughly the enrollment of Towson University.

“We always have an increase in our enrollment growth at a time when the economy has difficulties, because people use that time to come back to the community colleges, for retraining,” Kallis says. “We consider a successful student one who transfers to a four-year institution. They got into a four-year institution because they proved at a community college that they could do the work.”

There are 16 community colleges in Maryland, serving about half a million people, from the high school-sized Garrett College to the 25,000-student Montgomery College. Some people take just one class, while others have a larger course load that will prepare them for a four-year college.

Kallis says the goal of any community college is to serve the community, and keep tuition low: about half the price of a state school, and about an eighth the cost of a private college or university. Many young students save even more money by skipping dormitory life and staying home with their families.

With higher costs of higher education, the relatively low cost of community college makes it even more attractive, she says, especially because financial aid has shrunk in the state after running flat the last few years. That means many students who qualified for financial aid in the past are no longer eligible.

Maryland has always reaped the benefits of being so close to the federal government. But in today’s economy, as government revenues drop and spending is cut, that could mean people could be losing their jobs, Kallis believes. That means community colleges will be at the ready to re-train a considerable amount of the workforce.

Community colleges are also seeing a surge in popularity because many jobs of the future are going to require some kind of post-secondary education and training beyond high school, Kallis says. One example of that would be “green” jobs with solar and wind energy programs are gaining popularity based on demand.

“Not only are we the largest provider of that training, we're the most economic provider. We're all about opportunity,” she says.

Private Institutions

St. John’s College’s Greenfield Library in Annapolis has undergone several renovations in recent years to give parts of the facility a modern aesthetic.

The economic downturn has had a profound impact on private nonprofit schools that rely on tuition and private donations to defray costs, according to Tina M. Bjarekull, president of the Maryland Independent College and University Association. The Annapolis-based organization represents 16 member institutions.

“Part of those funds is coming from endowments, and if you have a 401(k), you know what has happened to our endowments,” she says. “So when you have a huge drop in your endowments, you have a drop in private giving, because people aren’t as wealthy as they were at one time, financially there have been a lot of struggles on campus.”

To that end, MICUA joined the Coalition For College Cost Savings in 2010, an organization that coordinates bulk purchases, so schools can use purchasing power to get a better price on things like health insurance and equipment leasing.

Bjarekull says while there are some areas of notable change, including the prevalence of technology in classrooms and the availability of online courses, one trend that is literally re-shaping campus curriculum and facilities is one that may be flying under the radar: the role of the library on campus. 

It’s a change that stems from a shift to group study and discussion, as a way to replicate real-world learning.

“Libraries used to be these quiet places where people went to and they studied in corners by themselves,” she says. “That’s not how it works anymore. We’ve been doing a lot of retrofitting of libraries in recent years, to make the library more of the center of campus life, rather than, you know, these dusty old books that sit somewhere else that you go to only when you absolutely have to do a research project. That’s not a library anymore. That’s what businesses are looking for; it’s how you work to bring out the best in the team. It is critically important as you move on in life, no matter what you do.”